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In This Issue:





· THIS ADMINISTRATION (a revisit to an earlier article )


By Ivan W. Parkins


Is the position of Member of Congress too attractive?


The recent adjournment of Congress without voting on the continuation of present tax rates is a particularly sharp example of how our Congress fails the nation.  By nearly all accounts, settling that question would greatly reduce the economic uncertainty that plagues businesses, and nearly all of us.


Congress chose to run away from an action that would also have helped to clarify how many citizens will vote in the coming election.  That, is likely the main reason for its failure to act in what would have been, for the nation, a timely fashion.  Unfortunately, it appears that for many members of Congress their own job security is the top priority.


A really thorough accounting of the wealth of Congressional members, before and after they serve, might be revealing!


By Ivan W. Parkins


One thing on which Republicans ought to be able to agree with Democrats is reduction of the filibuster rule in the Senate.  Democrats are complaining that Republicans now use it to stall “progressive” legislation.  Historically, the rule has been noted for its use by Southern Democrats to prevent civil rights advances.  That old rule required the votes of two-thirds of members present to exercise cloture, i.e. to halt debate.


Following the forced resignation of President Nixon, Democrats in the Senate changed the rule to one requiring the votes of 60 Senators, to enact cloture.  In two Congresses following, Democrats had at least 60 partisan votes.  More recently that has not usually been the case, and they are much offended by Republican filibuster threats.  Never, since FDR, have Republicans had a majority large enough to stop a Democrat filibuster.


With congressional rules, as with the interpretations of the Constitution, Democrats like a maximum of freedom for government to act, so long as they are the ones prescribing actions to be taken.


By Ivan W. Parkins


In 1983 a small news story caught my attention, partly because it was so small.  It stated that during the 1960s and 1970s every age group in the United States except one had enjoyed a decline in its death rate.  The one group was 15-24 year olds.


Why did the story get so little attention?  If people of military age were the losers, that would surely have prompted some of the anti-war sentiment of the time.  But, I soon discovered that our fatalities in Vietnam were not included.


I inquired of the White House and received an advance copy of Health-United States, 1983.  From that and Census statistics, I was able to estimate that domestic deaths from homicide and suicide had totaled among 15-24 year olds about three times our losses in Vietnam.  Furthermore, just the increase probably exceeded Vietnam’s cost, especially if we noted that the problem extended a year or two before 15 and after 24.


Apparently, the 60’s and 70’s were not a grand adventure for all young Americans.  Could the anti-Vietnam protesters have saved more lives at home?  How much of the “fruit” of that age is now reaching/passing its maturity?



 Reprint of a column, Buyer’s Guide, 6/1/81


By Ivan W. Parkins


             The prevailing view of free speech and free press is one that I like to call verbal laissez faire.  It prevails in the sense that most intellectual and legal authorities, including the United States Supreme Court, accept it.  It is laissez faire not only because it requires that government keep its hands off, but also because it contends that free competition will produce the best results.

             In the literature and cases dealing with free speech and press the term laissez faire is rarely applied.  Frequently, however, John Milton is quoted from AREOPAGITICA.  “Let truth and error struggle. Who ever knew truth to be gotten the better of in a fair fight?”  Much quoted also is Justice Holmes’s statement. “...the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market…”  Freedom from government and competition as the way to obtain good results are the predominant themes of free expression theory.  They are the heart of laissez faire doctrine in economics; why are they not call laissez faire in verbal endeavors?

             Actually, our intellectual and legal authorities have, most of them, rejected economic laissez faire at the same time they have adopted the parallel verbal theory.  The Supreme Court, which early in this century gave constitutional priority to freedom of contract and related ideas of economic laissez faire, has, especially since World War II, given preference to liberties associated with speech and press.  At the same time, the Court has stated, with very little qualification, that legislatures may regulate economic activities in any manner that a majority of legislators believe to be necessary.  Thus, verbal freedoms and economic freedoms are treated as unrelated in nature and essentially different in priority as legal rights.

             H.R.COASE of the University of Chicago Law School has written, provocatively, on one aspect of the problem.  Why, asks Coase, if freedom and competition for popular acceptance are the best means of selecting other ideas, should not laissez faire apply to commercial advertising?  In fact, at the same time that most speech and publication were gaining almost absolute freedom in America, the Federal Trade Commission gained increased authority over advertising.  Recently, under Chief Justice Burger, the Supreme Court has shown some sensitivity to the anomaly, but most of our intellectual and legal authorities ignore it.

             One especially influential book of the past generation has been J.K. Galbraith’s AFFLUENT SOCIETY.  Galbraith contends that traditional values of American society were shaped by economic scarcity, and emphasized freedom and hard work as aids to production.  Now, however, we can produce more goods than we need, and Galbraith thinks that our values should be directed to how that product is distributed.  Perhaps the most interesting implication of Galbraith’s reasoning is one of which he takes no notice.  Galbraith’s theory can be applied to verbal endeavors as well as to economics.

             Certainly when Milton wrote (17th century), and probably even as late the time of Holmes (early 20th century), information and ideas were often scarce.  Freedom to produce and distribute more information and ideas was vital to achieving a better informed public.  Since WWII, however, the amount and variety of information and ideas available has exceeded what any individual could sort through and understand.  May we not have reached the point where problems of selecting for mass distribution are more important than increasing our production of information and ideas?  Is verbal laissez faire really relevant to the age of television?

             We regulate economic competition partly because inequalities of wealth seem to make that competition unfair.  Is access to the mass media of verbal expression distributed more equitably than access to the commercial and banking resources of the nation?  Most of us have less to do with interest rates than David Rockefeller does; we also have less influence upon the news than Walter Cronkite.

             My main point is that there are many significant similarities between both the theories and the practical problems involved in economic and verbal laissez faire. One can make a strong case that both theories are essentially sound and have on the whole served well.  One can criticize both for the monopolies, dishonest behavior, and inequalities among competitors which sometimes corrupt them in practice.  It may seem less evident, but it is not unreasonable to contend that both forms of laissez faire suffer from flaws that make it desirable that alternatives be adopted.

             Regarding economic and verbal laissez faire: the one position that is most difficult to support, least consistent and least reasonable, is that one form is grossly inadequate and the other incomparably superior to any alternative.  That is precisely the view taken by America’s intellectual and legal establishments.  It is reason enough for the rest of us to doubt the capacity of those establishments to lead us.




Reprint from April 2009

By Ivan W. Parkins


     President Obama has survived his first 100 days in the Presidency for which his experience had prepared him so meagerly.  Even the “empty suit” that Democrats nominated four years earlier had had more “real world” experience.  As a community organizer and advocate Obama had served effectively in one significant, but quite limited, sector of America’s public life.  His broader public service was exceptionally brief and undistinguished for a presidential candidate.


     For a national leader faced with economic panic, charisma, action, and hope are especially important.  Obama has excelled handsomely in all of those.  But now, as panic subsides, where do we go from here?  The Obama Administration’s approach is “Don’t waste the panic.”  To me, that appears to be nearly the opposite of what is needed.


     For instance, the idea that we can enhance America’s international reputation by curbing our military is likely to become one of the great jokes of future world history.  It will almost certainly be juxtaposed at some point to the widely known, but largely unpublicized, facts that “benevolent” America had been mainly responsible for denying a life protecting chemical to millions of the world’s poorest people, mostly blacks.  That America’s First Black President would permit the resulting genocide to continue will astound even our critics.  That carnage may already have exceeded the total fatalities that can be attributed to our military throughout American history.


     Of course, restraining President Obama is the fact that some of the political elements to which he is most indebted, quasi-religious people and organizations, are the prime originators and supporters of the genocide.  Is it to obscure the lethality of ill-considered “liberalism” that so many of our self designated paladins concentrate their demands for more disclosures upon our intelligence and military operations?


     Extreme domestic experiments, and programs initiated quickly on a grand scale without much experimental basis, plus the huge costs of new “entitlements,” are not likely to speed our economic recovery.  They may relieve some of the pent up frustrations of “liberal” political elements.


(Note: I place the term liberal in quotes to suggest that I think it is usually misapplied, as a designation for what are really reactionary, i.e. left-wing and ideologically based, politics.)   4/27/09